A network of CPD leaders visited schools in the US to explore good practice in leadership of professional development. Barbara Dutton, coordinator of the network in Warrington, reports on what the group learned, and describes how they’ve been putting it into action

The synergy between performance management, the revised professional standards for teachers, school improvement planning, professional development and school self-evaluation prompted Warrington local authority to consider how to build the capacity of CPD leaders and ensure that their leadership role had a higher profile in school staffing structures.

I am the coordinator of a network of existing and emergent CPD leaders in Warrington. We promote an integrated approach to professional development and our network includes senior school leaders, teachers, higher level teaching assistants, bursars and business managers. Our intention has been to promote innovative blue-sky thinking by developing the skills sets of those who are able and committed to leading professional development.

As coordinator, I recently went with a group on a 10-day trip that explored good practice in leadership of professional development in some schools in the United States. Our hosts at Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), in Maryland, near Washington DC, ensured that the visit was exciting and stimulating and tailored to our needs. The British Council’s Teachers’ International Professional Development (TIPD) programme, with which we made our arrangements for the visit, provides opportunities for teachers to meet with education professionals across the world.

The learning journey
Before our trip we organised workshops with the network to identify our priorities for learning. All participants identified generic and school-specific aims and objectives for the visit, with proposed outcomes.

As part of our Warrington strategy to engage in future thinking with our CPD leaders, we have asked questions such as: What kind of education will be needed in 10 or 20 years? What sort of curriculum, learning environments, teachers and support staff will we need?

Since our particular focus is to educate, train and then support professional development, what kind of initial preparation and CPD are we going to need for the education professionals of the second and third decades of the 21st century?

In brief, how do we prepare our people to prepare our pupils for a future we can hardly imagine? Questions like these formed the backdrop to our engagement with the visit to America.

Our aim was to investigate how other professionals participate in learning, performance management, training, coaching and mentoring in support of professional development that will create a learning community. These points were identified and recorded during visits to elementary, middle and high schools in Montgomery County. We observed lessons in the three main host schools, had meetings with MCPS board of education representatives, interviewed staff (with a wide range of roles and responsibilities), attended school leadership meetings and staff planning and training events and talked with the students.

Part of the ongoing evaluation while we were there and on our return was to see what we had learned. Recognising the importance of reflection, we each maintained a reflective learning journal noting how our developing knowledge, understanding and skills could enrich school and classroom practice. The notion was that by explicitly identifying, tracking and recording our own thinking and learning processes, we, as leaders of learning, would be more confident and adept at guiding the learning of colleagues and pupils.

It was valuable to be able to exchange ideas and share expertise with our American colleagues. We all recognise that the role of CPD leader is vital and has become increasingly complex. Training and support are needed, particularly in how to evaluate the impact of CPD.

Staff development teachers
A significant priority in Montgomery County has been to build capacity in teachers and support staff by providing opportunities for their professional growth. Time allocations for professional development are generous, with a higher level of committed funding than in other parts of Maryland, or in many other states. A predetermined professional growth programme is mapped out for all teachers, with milestones set for the achievement of Master’s degrees and further qualifications.

The considerable financial resources of the MCPS system have enabled them to employ a designated staff development teacher in every school. This is a senior (administrative) non-timetabled post dedicated to the professional growth of all colleagues. They act as a consultant, mentor, role model and critical friend to teachers at all stages of their careers. They are based in school, have a real insight into the quality of teaching and learning, provide training in aspects of pedagogy and act as a conduit between the teaching staff and the administration (senior leaders) of the school.
A Leadership Development Programme in Montgomery County ensures that new or aspiring assistant principals (deputy headteachers) benefit from a uniform set of standards for the first three years, supported by a consulting principal/mentor to promote succession planning for headship. This internship programme for assistant principals offers opportunities for ‘on the job’ learning as a principal with high-quality coaching support.

Applying what we learned
All participants agreed that, through the varied programme offered to us by our American hosts, our own practice has been extended. We can apply what has been learned in Maryland and endeavour to influence systems and structures in the UK.

Colleagues have strengthened their understanding and shared views of what is meant by CPD leadership. They have identified opportunities for collaborative partnership work within the CPD network and with international counterparts. They have considered a range of approaches to developing their leadership competencies (see box 1 below) and have planned more coherent CPD strategies for their own schools that allow for innovation and experimentation (see box 2 further below).

Box 1: Developing CPD leadership competencies

In workshop sessions, CPD leaders identified leadership characteristics associated with their role in school, using NCSL criteria as their starting point. Network meetings addressed these through a range of strategies



Strategies to develop CPD leadership: approaches that work through the CPD leaders’ network

Confidence Rises to challenge Professional learning workshops: presentations by CPD leaders to their colleagues develop self-confidence and enable sharing of good practice between schools and phases
Creating trust Is consistent, fair Team-building and team-working: using coaching relationships built on mutual trust to develop effective CPD strategies, sometimes working with colleagues from other phases (primary, secondary, post-16)
Developing potential Created development opportunities for others Action research projects: focused collaborative working between experienced and emerging CPD leaders to engage in reciprocal learning
Resilience and flexibility

Sustains energy, optimism, motivation

Adapts to the needs of a situation

Creating opportunities for reflection: using reflective journals to record leadership learning

Open forum for ideas exchange: identifying school-based CPD challenges and offering solutions through joint problem-solving

Information seeking Promotes intellectual curiosity Research and dialogue: providing time, resources and opportunities for research into international, national and regional CPD current best practice

Respect for others


Creates a community where there is mutual respect

Understands the behaviour of others

Facilitating regular network meetings: LA CPD advisor and consultants model effective practice in facilitating a learning community of CPD leaders
Team builder Builds team spirit Collaborative team planning: accessing cross-phase and cross-school CPD opportunities, eg one-day Inset and twilight training sessions, paired observations, learning walks, shared resources

Box 2: Strategies that allow innovation and experimentation: two schools’ approaches

Locking Stumps Primary School: aligning CPD with the professional standards and performance management

The CPD leader at Locking Stumps Primary identified her CPD priorities:

  • To source actions and resources that will address the needs of the school, staff and children.
  • To gain a wider picture of the needs of the school, staff and the children.

She wanted to develop a CPD system that

  • allows individual staff the opportunity for personal and professional growth
  • encourages all staff to proactively prepare for the future
  • addresses whole-school issues
  • facilitates visionary thinking
  • utilises the excellent skills base that exists within school
  • strengthens teaching and learning
  • ultimately benefits the children.

She identified several areas of challenge, eg the confidentiality of the performance management process meant that the CPD leader was unaware of individual staff needs. This caused difficulty in collating any whole-school issues other than those identified by the school development plan. There was also little reference to professional standards or regular discussions regarding long-term aims for staff.

As a consequence, the coordination of whole-school individual needs was problematic.

Her strategy was to:

  • provide each member of staff with copies of the professional standards in their own CPD file (professional development portfolio), with the file to contain a matrix that enables staff to keep evidence of achievement in each area of professional standards
  • extend performance management documents to identify CPD needs
  • extend PM documents to include three- or five-year aims of the member of staff (PM targets to identify which professional standards need developing)
  • have training needs passed to CPD leader, who will coordinate.

This ensures the CPD leader can:

  • identify whole-school Inset needs
  • identify staff strengths within school to support individual needs – thus professionally developing at least two people
  • set up lesson observations/team teaching/mentoring/coaching
  • identify personalised training appropriate to needs
  • contact LA CPD advisor for needs that cannot be met within school setting.

William Beamont Community High School and Specialist Sports College: Timetabled CPD programme for all staff – a bespoke programme

The CPD leader recognised that using twilight training sessions at the end of a busy day was not conducive to purposeful adult learning. She created a bespoke CPD programme where each teacher is timetabled for two one-hour slots per fortnight. One-hour CPD sessions are delivered by a combination of internal and external facilitators. This does not disrupt the timetable since staff are organised in clusters of approximately 10 teachers per group across a range of departments (who would not normally be teaching at this time). This is in addition to the usual non-contact time for each teacher and no cover is needed.

Examples of timetabled CPD sessions:

  • SEAL: social and emotional aspects of learning
  • assessment for learning
  • use of whole-school data for tracking pupil progress and to inform planning
  • performance management professional development meetings with reviewers and reviewees.

Staff evaluations so far are very positive: ‘It was a real benefit to have time with the department and learn new skills.’

The programme has proved so successful that it will continue into the next academic year.

A measure of the programme’s effectiveness is the increased capacity of participants to redefine and reconstruct their roles in school as CPD leaders (see box 3).

Box 3: Redefining roles in school as CPD leaders

William Beamont Community High School and Specialist Sports College: director of professional learning

The school has created a CPD leader post at deputy-head level, specifically designed to nurture whole-staff development and leadership. The director of professional learning:

  • has an up-to-date understanding of curriculum design and innovation and is able to lead further developments that will personalise learning for all pupils and staff
  • is an exemplary classroom practitioner with high expectations and a clear understanding of effective pedagogy
  • is able to support and guide middle leaders to increase their effectiveness
  • is able to promote professional learning through partnership and teamwork
  • has a proven ability to lead on aspects of school improvement, whole-school training, adult leWilliam Beamont Community High School and Specialist Sports College: director of professional learningarning, self-evaluation and the monitoring of pupil performance data
  • is an innovative, independent and strategic thinker with vision and fresh ideas
  • is able to motivate and inspire colleagues
  • has energy, resilience, adaptability and enthusiasm.

This post in many ways is a parallel to the staff development teacher role of Montgomery County, Maryland, and is a direct outcome of the TIPD. The role merges consultant, mentor, role model and critical friend to teachers at all stages of their careers.

The CPD leadership role is already being given a much higher profile in our local authority school staffing structures, evident in some recent school appointments as a senior leader or director of professional learning. They are a powerful influence on the creation and development of learning communities and central to any core strategy for distributed leadership. Our emergent CPD leaders have grown in confidence and self-esteem; they are the recognised learning champions for CPD.

The information and experiences will form an ongoing part of Warrington’s CPD strategy for improving provision and practice in professional development for the whole school workforce. Having ‘started small’ our challenge is to ‘scale up’ by involving as many schools as we can in the region to benefit from the potential for collaboration and innovation in this CPD network.

Impact: leadership development strategies – to infinity and beyond!
The local authority is implementing a leadership development strategy to nurture leaders at all levels to prepare for the challenges of succession planning. This includes promoting a career progression path for all staff, including support staff, to identify how effective CPD can support their professional growth. We are investigating exchange placements in other schools and organisations (including Montgomery County) for our deputy headteachers and middle leaders to extend their leadership competencies within a meaningful context. This would provide an opportunity to build on the Montgomery County model of a period of internship for assistant principals as preparation for becoming school principal. We are creating a ‘pool’ of leadership expertise to support the development of others. Our local authority leadership development project, supported by NCSL, enables established deputy heads to experience headship in the familiar environment of their own school (with the full support of governors and parents) while their headteacher undertakes a secondment for action research.

The network of CPD leaders has opportunities for learning to be accredited at Master’s level through links with our local higher education institution. This provides added impetus to action research projects in schools. These include developing coaching within, and between, schools to bring about change in classrooms; supporting NQTs through a second year in a ‘NQT plus 1’ mentoring programme (see box 4); designing the school curriculum to enable professional development to be timetabled each week for all staff; creating a forum on the local authority website to post questions and share aspects of effective teaching and learning; developing synergy between performance management and CPD through professional development portfolios. For some, this means that their reflective journals, started more than a year before the visit to Montgomery County, can be accredited as evidence and affirmation of their own professional learning journey.

Box 4: Year two for NQTs

Penketh High School: NQT + 1

The main focus for this programme of support is to develop a wider awareness of whole-school issues for teachers in their second year of teaching by creating opportunities to be on working parties, to work alongside subject leaders and those with TLR posts. As a result, each teacher in his/her second year opts to choose to work in one of four areas:

  • Opening Minds – the new Year 7 curriculum
  • assessment for learning
  • cooperative learning structures
  • the teaching and learning development team.

This experience has proved invaluable as they have not only contributed to each initiative but have learned:

  • the rationale and purpose of the initiatives
  • how subject leaders and those with other responsibilities convene, plan and chair meetings
  • the need for effective budget management
  • links between the initiatives
  • effective planning strategies
  • effective teamwork.

Status has been an important factor. Teachers in their second year have felt valued knowing that their fresh and imaginative approaches have been included in the development of these initiatives. These colleagues will now be better prepared to take on responsibilities.

We’ve forged invaluable links with our American colleagues, some of whom have now participated in a reciprocal visit to Warrington. We recognise that we have so much to offer each other. They are keen to learn how professional development of the children’s workforce supports Every Child Matters, compared with their No Child Left Behind federal agenda. We will continue to share ideas and good practice around their key interests: the benefits of a competency-based curriculum, personalising learning, engaging parents as active learning partners, data management systems, and assessment for learning. The TIPD has opened up a world of future exchange possibilities.

By synthesising models from the Montgomery County professional growth system with our own vision for leadership development, we hope to nurture the leaders of the future with the potential for creating a world class education system.

Barbara Dutton is senior adviser, Warrington Children’s Services Directorate